Government seeks international engagement in conciliatory policy shift

The government has assured its commitment to “constructive engagement” with international partners and “structured political dialogue” with opposition parties in a conciliatory shift in policy.

The foreign ministry noted in a statement yesterday that imprisoned former President Mohamed Nasheed has been transferred to house arrest for eight weeks and pledged to keep the international community informed of the opposition leaders’ condition under a “broader commitment to strengthening transparency and dialogue.”

“This commitment to dialogue and cooperation with the international community is reflected in the government’s desire to foster strong and constructive relations with the opposition political parties in the Maldives,” the foreign ministry said.

“As with the development of reforms, the government recognises that the promotion of open and inclusive dialogue of this kind will take time. The government will continue to engage constructively with its international partners, and in particular with the Office of the UN Secretary General, European Union and the Commonwealth.”

The government had initially reacted to international criticism of Nasheed’s prosecution by dismissing statements expressing concern with the terrorism trial as “biased” and alleging undue interference in domestic affairs.

“The government of President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom will not take instructions from a foreign government on any issue in governing the country,” foreign minister Dunya Maumoon had declared in February, urging foreign countries and international organisations to “refrain from acts and signals that could undermine the sovereignty of independent states.”

In April, President Abdulla Yameen urged the armed forces to defend his administration claiming international pressure is undermining the Maldives’ sovereignty and weakening the rule of law.

The arrest of former President Nasheed and ex-defence minister Mohamed Nazim in February and the pair’s subsequent imprisonment on terrorism and weapons smuggling charges, respectively, triggered a political crisis with daily protests, mass anti-government demonstrations and hundreds of arrests.

Yesterday’s statement noted that President Yameen has asked UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon to send a team to the Maldives to help resolve the crisis.

“President Yameen reiterated his pledge to ensure that a process of structured political dialogue with the opposition parties is realised,” the foreign ministry said.

International pressure has been mounting on the government in recent months to release “political prisoners.” Nasheed’s transfer to house arrest this week appears to be a step towards political reconciliation.

In April, the European parliament adopted a resolution calling for Nasheed’s release while earlier this month Senators John McCain and Jack Reed urged the US government to press for the opposition leader’s release.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron became the first head of government to call for Nasheed’s release yesterday.

In a tweet this afternoon, the foreign ministry said that minister Dunya spoke with UK Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Hugo Swire, today and offered updates on the Maldives’ situation.

“She noted that there are no political prisoners in the Maldives,” the foreign ministry said.

President Yameen also told the UN secretary general that there are no political prisoners in the Maldives

Jailed opposition politicians were convicted of criminal offences, he said.

According to the foreign ministry, the president assured Ban Ki-moon that the government was ready to engage in talks with Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party.

The conciliatory statements follow the enlistment of a law firm owned by Cherie Blair, the wife of UK’s former prime minister Tony Blair, to “strengthen the legislative framework of the government.”

The foreign ministry said yesterday that the government “considers its obligations towards legislative, constitutional and judicial reform as an integral part of its development plans”.

“As is the case for every state, successful and far-reaching reform takes time. This is especially true in a small state with limited resources; however, the Government remains committed to sustaining and building on the current rate of progress that has already been achieved in the Maldives,” the foreign ministry said.

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PPM accuses international community of “double standards and hypocrisy” in Nasheed’s trial

The ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) has condemned the international community’s “hypocrisy and double standards” with regards to an ongoing terrorism trial against former President Mohamed Nasheed.

Nasheed is accused of abducting Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed in January 2012. If convicted, he faces a jail term or banishment between ten and 15 years.

Speaking to the press today, MP and PPM Spokesperson Ali Arif said the former president is “close to the international community’s hearts” because he had allegedly “spoken against Islam while abroad.”

The ruling party said “many observers, ‘experts’ and ‘proponents of democratic values’ including many countries and organisations had ignored the many unconstitutional and undemocratic actions of President Nasheed.”

The Commonwealth, EU, Canada, UK, Australia and India have expressed concern over new terror charges against Nasheed, and denial of legal representation and police mistreatment at the trial’s first hearing.

“We wish to ask these observers and organisations whether they really ‘condone the kidnapping of judges.’ Would they call for individuals, and those in positions of authority, to walk free, without any burden of responsibility, after conducting such actions in their own countries?” reads a press statement issued in English.

“Where was the ‘international community’ when the Supreme Court was locked up?” it continued.

The international community had remained “disturbingly silent” when Nasheed “systematically harassed and persecuted” former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, “arbitrarily arrested and detained” then MP and current President Abdulla Yameen, Jumhooree Party (JP) Leader Gasim Ibrahim, Adhaalath Party’s Sheikh Imran Abdulla, and current Vice President Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed, the statement said.

When Judge Abdulla was detained, “only a few organisations released statements condemning this illegal act,” but today “every minor incident in Maldives warrants a statement by some countries and organisations while many serious and deteriorating situations in other countries are ignored,” it added.

The party called on the international community to respect Maldives sovereignty and not to undermine its institutions.

PPM also accused the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and media of defaming President Yameen and former President Gayoom to “undermine the good name and respect the Maldives holds in the region and the international arena.”

Stressing the PPM remained committed to strengthening and consolidating democracy in the Maldives and protecting human rights, the party said it believed “justice should take its course and no man is above the law.”

The ruling party invited all international parties to come forward and observe the “actual situation” in the Maldives, “which despite distortions of facts perpetuated by some media remain calm and normal.”

Meanwhile, the MDP continues to hold daily protests, with MDP MPs disrupting parliamentary proceedings, while party supporters continue numerous protests in Malé, at the airport and at sea.

Police previously informed Minivan News over 77 individuals have been arrested at opposition protests, with 33 of them being released on condition that they do not go to further protests.

Recently, an open letter signed by 31 global activists and film makers, including Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Jose Ramos-Horta, called on the international community to use all resources to “pressure the government to free” Nasheed and “desist in all human rights abuses against him immediately.”

Ramos-Horta and Benedict Rodgers, the deputy chairman of the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission in the UK, in a Wall Street Journal op-ed on March 9 called for international sanctions against the Maldives.

“Options include targeted sanctions, freezing the overseas assets of senior members of the regime and suspending the Maldives from the Commonwealth. Tourists should consider boycotting the Maldives, especially resorts owned by regime cronies,” they wrote.

Australian Senator James McGrath has also described the trial against Nasheed as a “state planned judicial assassination,” saying that President Abdulla Yameen was becoming the “Robert Mugabe of the Indian Ocean.”

Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon has previously condemned international statements of concern, saying: “No foreign power can tell Maldives what to do under President [Abdulla] Yameen.”

“To criticize us in public statements with lies or based with having only heard the opposition’s point of view is not acceptable. The government will not accept these statements and will not pay any attention to them,” Dunya said.


Related to this story

“This is not a court of law. This is injustice,” Nasheed tells the Criminal Court

Global change makers demand a fair trial for Nasheed

Indian Prime Minister Modi cancels Maldives trip

EU, UN join international chorus of concern over Nasheed’s arrest, terrorism trial

Foreign Minister Dunya slams Canada, Commonwealth statements on Nasheed prosecution

10,000 protest in Malé, call for President Yameen’s resignation

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EC dismissals: Government calls on international partners to respect Maldivian constitution

The government has called on international partners to respect the Maldivian constitution and democratic processes following condemnation of the Supreme Court’s controversial removal of the Elections Commission (EC) chair and deputy chair.

The appeal was made in a statement released by the President’s Office last night welcoming parliament’s approval of a new EC member, which “enables the EC to function with the legally required quorum and hold the general elections scheduled for 22 March 2014.”

“Negative external reaction to judicial decisions of the Maldives challenges the domestic institutions and national processes, thereby undermining the constitution of the Maldives and hindering the ongoing process of democracy consolidation,” the statement read.

It added that strengthening of state institutions was “an ongoing process,” and noted that “high-profile” cases remained stalled at court.

“The government is always ready to work with interested external actors through a process of dialogue and cooperation based on mutual respect in working towards consolidating democracy in the Maldives.”

Since the adoption of the 2008 constitution that established a presidential system with separation of powers, the Maldives has “experienced a vibrant democratic process that has enabled the nascent system to flourish,” the President’s Office said.

The statement comes as the UK, India, and the Commonwealth joined the US, Canada, and the UN in expressing concern with the Supreme Court’s dismissal of the elections commissioners.

The President’s Office statement also echoed calls by Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon earlier this month urging international partners not to “undermine our judicial system.”

The President’s Office also suggested that its submission to parliament of candidates to fill the vacancies in the commission demonstrated “the government’s unshakable commitment to the independence of the EC”.

“The government of Maldives is fully committed to ensuring the constitutionally guaranteed independence, professionalism, and integrity of the Elections Commission,” the statement read.

The President’s Office argued that parliament’s decision to approve Ismail Habeeb Abdul Raheem to the EC was “consistent with the Supreme Court verdict” dismissing the EC chair and deputy chair.

“In compliance with the verdict, the government proposed to the Majlis for consideration and to vote on the names of candidates to fill the remaining two vacant positions at the Elections Commission,” it added.

Despite parliament’s approval of Ismail Habeeb Abdul Raheem yesterday to replace former EC member Ibrahim ‘Ogaru’ Waheed – who resigned in October citing poor health – the opposition-majority independent institutions committee has declared that EC Chair Fuwad Thowfeek and Deputy Chair Ahmed Fayaz remained EC members

The move followed a letter sent to President Abdulla Yameen, Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz, and Attorney General Mohamed Anil by Speaker of Parliament Abdulla Shahid contending that the dismissals were unconstitutional.

The letter – based on legal advice provided by parliament’s Counsel General Fathmath Filza – stated that the pair were removed in violation of procedures specified in both the constitution and the Elections Commission Act for the appointment and dismissal of EC members.

Article 177 of the constitution states that an EC member could be removed from office if a parliamentary committee established “misconduct, incapacity or incompetence” and  “upon the approval of such finding by the People’s Majlis by a majority of those present and voting.”

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EC dismissals: “Falsified” accounts by international community undermining judiciary, says Chief Justice

Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz has accused the international community of fabricating lies regarding the Supreme Court’s verdict against the Elections Commission (EC).

In doing so, “they have engaged in a battle against the constitution with an independent nation”, said Faiz.

The Chief Justice released a statement strongly condemning statements released by the US State Department and the Canadian Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Tuesday.

These voices of disapproval were joined today by Australia, which has similarly expressed concern over recent developments, noting its “firm expectation” that scheduled elections will go ahead “in a manner that is free, fair, credible and peaceful”.

In his response to such comments, Faiz claimed that neither international countries nor organisations have the authority to criticise and spread falsifications regarding any verdict of the Supreme Court.

Claims by the international community that the apex court is unduly influencing the work of the EC and undermining their independence is against the truth, argued the chief justice.

“I would like to say that these statements regarding a Supreme Court verdict in an internal legal case of the Maldives are inclusive of falsified claims, and undermine the respect and authority of the Maldivian judiciary,” said Faiz.

“They are thus an irresponsible act by the international community, one conducted without observing the events occurring in the Maldives or getting clarifications of the matter from local authorities. I thereby strongly condemn these statements,” the statement read.

“The Maldives is a free and independent state. It is a sovereign state which rules over itself. The releasing of falsified accounts and statements of the Maldives’ Supreme Court’s actions to fulfill its legal obligations is neither an assistance towards consolidating democracy in the Maldives nor towards maintaining rule of law or strengthening of the justice system.”

Faiz emphasized that he would continue to fulfill his legal obligations concerning the mandates of the courts, and that he would do so without any hesitation towards or consideration of international opinion.

Challenging the Supreme Court

Faiz also condemned local groups’ criticism of the verdict. The Maldivian Democratic Party and the Majlis secretariat have both deemed the ruling unconstitutional.

Faiz stated that the most important duty of the apex court is to establish justice, rule of law and to maintain the empowerment of law, and the constitution requires that the Supreme Court has the final say in the interpretation of laws.

He further noted that it was the constitutional responsibility of all state authorities to maintain the respect and positive reputation of the courts.

“While this is so, when the few persons in charge of running the matters of the state repeatedly challenged the verdicts of the Supreme Court and undermined the respect towards the courts, it was an act that certainly eroded people’s trust in one branch of the state and an act that paved the way to the obliteration of the foundation of the Supreme Court,” Faiz continued.

“There is no doubt that the failure to take action against such acts – despite them becoming alarmingly common – negatively affects the Constitution of the Maldives and casts a shadow over the courts of law.”

“It is an incontestable reality that it is a danger to our constitution when there are matters in the judiciary which need to be reformed through the joint efforts of all state authorities, and instead of constructive work to achieve this, the courts are challenged and the judiciary is attacked.”

Faiz concluded the statement asserting that he will continue to work according to his mandate regardless of the criticism that comes his way, and without any hesitation despite any criticisms or obstacles that may be put forth by international organisations and foreign countries.

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International community welcomes end of democratic uncertainty, notes high voter turnout

The international community has welcomed the conclusion of the Maldivian electoral process, after two months and six attempts at polls that suffered delays, annulments and obstruction.

Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) candidate Abdulla Yameen was sworn in as President yesterday, after a last-minute coalition with resort tycoon Gasim Ibrahim netted him 51.39 percent in Saturday’s run-off vote against former President Mohamed Nasheed.

The Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) recalled its earlier decision to place the Maldives on its agenda due to concerns about democratic progress in the country.

“Ministers welcomed the successful conclusion of the presidential election and noted the interim statement of the Commonwealth Observer Group, which stated that the election had been “credible and peaceful”. They congratulated the people of Maldives for showing their firm commitment to democracy, and for exercising their franchise in record numbers,” read a statement.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also observed in a statement that people in the Maldives “turned out to vote in impressive numbers, showing their determination to choose their next president, despite the many obstacles and delays.”

“The close contest highlights the need for the new administration to engage the opposition in a constructive manner and to lead the country in the interest of all Maldivians,” the UN statement read.

“The Secretary-General strongly urges all political leaders, state institutions and the Maldivian people to work urgently toward genuine reconciliation and to advance the country’s democratic process through long-term institutional reforms, in particular strengthening the judiciary and accountability mechanisms, and promoting a national dialogue.”

The UK’s State Minister for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Hugo Swire, said he “congratulates the people of the Maldives for showing their commitment to democracy, as evidenced by the very high turnout in the presidential election.”

“I urge the new government and the opposition to work together constructively in the interests of all Maldivians and to avoid any acts of recrimination or retribution,” said Swire, who is currently visiting the Maldives,

“It is important that the forthcoming local and parliamentary elections go ahead in line with work of the Elections Commission and are not subject to the delay and legal interventions that marred the presidential elections. The UK looks forward to working with the new government,” he added.

The US Embassy in Colombo congratulated Yameen on his election as president, noting that “extraordinarily high turnout on November 16 was a tribute to the Maldivian people’s commitment to the democratic process and democratic values. The United States Government reiterates its friendship with the Maldivian people as they work to build a peaceful and prosperous future.”

Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird declared: “After a turbulent period in the Maldives’ young democracy, a new government has finally been elected. Canada congratulates the people of the Maldives for once again exercising their fundamental democratic right to vote in a peaceful manner, under the capable stewardship of the Elections Commission.”

“Confidence in the democratic process has been seriously undermined since the events of last year, particularly by the Supreme Court’s repeated delays to this election,” Baird noted.

“After such a close result, it is now incumbent upon President Abdulla Yameen to begin the process of reconciliation and govern for the whole country. Former President Mohamed Nasheed, the nation’s first democratically elected President, has shown magnanimity in defeat, and hopes for the future will be raised if all parties come together to establish positive working relations,” he stated.

“Democracy is not just about the counting of ballot papers – it is about principled voting, a strong civil society, a trusted judiciary, free media, effective opposition and responsible governance. It is a journey, not a destination. Canada and the international community will remain watchful for progress in this journey.”

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International community obliged to delegitimise President Waheed: Nasheed

Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) presidential candidate and former President Mohamed Nasheed has called on the international community not to recognise President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan should he stay in power beyond the end of the current presidential term at midnight tonight.

The Supreme Court in a ruling yesterday said Waheed’s presidency continues until a president elect is determined, invalidating a People’s Majlis resolution authorizing the speaker to assume the presidency in the absence of a president-elect.

Speaking to the press today, Nasheed said, “In my view, the international community is partly responsible for the messy situation here in the Maldives. We had a perfect well-oiled government in 2012. They came and they recognised my Vice President as the head of state. They have an obligation not to recognise him after the end of that period.”

Nasheed has called on Waheed to resign, allow Majlis Speaker Abdulla Shahid to assume the presidency and conduct the second round of presidential elections on November 16.

“We would hope that Dr Waheed will resign tonight and we are seeking for an election held with Shahid, the speaker of parliament, as head of state,” he said.

Waheed was Nasheed’s second in command, and came to the presidency on February 7, 2012, after elements of the police and military mutinied against Nasheed. The first democratically elected president publicly resigned, later alleging that he was ousted in a coup d’état.

Nasheed emerged as the frontrunner in yesterday’s presidential polls with 46.93 percent of the vote. He is set to compete against Progressive Party of the Maldives’s (PPM) Abdulla Yameen who won 29.73 percent.

A second round of elections was scheduled for today in order to ensure a president elect is determined by the end of the presidential term, but the Supreme Court in the early hours of the morning rescheduled the vote to November 16, reiterating the continuity of Waheed’s administration.

Beyond November 11

Speaking to the press on multiple occasions, Waheed has previously said he does not wish to stay on as president “even a day beyond November 11.” The President’s Office has not responded to the Supreme Court’s ruling on continuity of Waheed’s administration.

Nasheed described the Supreme Court as “vested interests”, and called on the international community “not to entertain” the apex court.

The Supreme Court annulled the first round of presidential polls held on September 7 despite unanimous praise of electoral conduct, and delineated 16 guidelines on electoral processes, limiting the independence of the Elections Commission and effectively giving veto power over elections to presidential candidates.

On October 19, the police brought elections to a halt after two of the three presidential candidates refused to sign the voter registry.

“[I]t is very clear to them now that the Supreme Court does not resemble any idea of a court. So I don’t believe the international community actually seriously takes the Supreme Court into account. And I would want them to very clearly indicate to the people of the Maldives, that they are with the constitution of the Maldives and not with the vested interests,” Nasheed said.

Further, an election conducted under Waheed’s leadership would be unconstitutional and “it would be very difficult” for the MDP to participate in such an election as such an election is open to interference from the Supreme Court, he added.

“We do not believe that if President Waheed continues in government that he would – or people aligned with him, working with him, in alliance with him – would want an election in the country. I think it is very clear that elections would go our way. If they do not intend to transfer power legally, then we do not see how they would want to have an election. So we don’t think there could be a conducive environment for elections. The Supreme Court will come out with another ruling upon the military or upon the police to definitely obstruct the elections. Come 16th of November, we will be back to square one,” he added.

Speaker to reach out

Meanwhile, Waheed’s Vice President Waheed Deen has stepped down today and a petition by mid ranking officers of the Maldives National Defense Forces (MNDF) calling on the army not to obey any order made by Waheed or his political appointees after November 11 has been circulating on social media.

The Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) has come out in support of Waheed assuming the presidency.

Speaking to the press last night, the PPM’s presidential candidate Yameen said: “Now the Supreme Court verdict has come the way President Waheed hoped for or wanted. So I am certain that President Waheed will stay with the Maldivian people at this most difficult time we are facing. I have no doubt about that.”

But Nasheed said the spirit of the constitution was for the People’s Majlis speaker to assume the presidency in the absence of a president and vice president as Article 124 (b) confers presidential powers to the Speaker if the presidency becomes vacant for any reason.

The speaker is expected to reach out to the different arms of the government and the security forces today, he said.

Speaking to Minivan News last week, Shahid said that if the reigns of power are taken over by an unelected body on November 11, it would mark the death of democracy in the Maldives.

Should he assume presidency, his role would be to ensure an election as soon as possible, Shahid said.

“To make sure that we hold an election as soon as possible and that the country is put back on track. That the opportunity for the people to have their say is provided and an elected leader is put in place. And then my job is done. The sooner the better. This is not an opportunity I cherish at all, to be an interim caretaker for this country,” he said.

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Comment: International community’s inaction may lead to carnage

The Maldives is beautiful. It is an archipelago of 1200 islands with pristine beaches, blue lagoons and thousands of coconut palms. It is one of the world’s most exclusive tourist destinations. It is a honeymooners’ haven and diver’s paradise. It is a hideaway for over-exposed celebrities and a sanctuary for the stressed. A string of islands nature intended as a playground for the rich and famous. Somewhere where Western billionaires come to have spa treatments underwater and the famous can relax without being photographed. A picture postcard.

Well, here’s a news flash. The Maldives is home to 300,000 people. They may not appear in the photographs, they may not be serving you your cocktails, they may not be cleaning your $4500 a night room, they may not be serving you the $1000 dinner on your golden plate under the full-moon, and the hands massaging your body in the spa under the palm tree may not be theirs, but they exist. They live, they talk, they walk, they feel, and they have the same silly notions about human rights, justice, equality and the rule of law as any other people in the world.

Last week, the Maldivian government was overthrown; its first democratically elected president held at gunpoint and forced to write a letter of resignation. It has been reported that ‘tourists barely put down their cocktails’ on the beaches of their exclusive holiday resorts just a few waves of the ocean away, so far removed is the tourism industry from the reality that Maldives is for Maldivian people.

Despite the tourists, and the rest of the world, being kept in deliberate ignorance, video evidence exists of the coup right from the planning stages to its successful execution. The only missing footage, so far, is that of the deposed president sitting down to write the letter. Everything else, from the violent take over of the state broadcaster by armed ‘policemen’, the beleagured president trying to control military and police personnel who were involved in the coup, coup leaders commanding the defecting officers, extreme brutality by the police against the public in the aftermath of the coup – it is all there, if you want to see it. ‘Want’ being the keyword here.

The ‘international community’ has not wanted to do so. British Prime Minister David Cameron, who had only months before described the deposed Maldivian President Nasheed as his ‘new best friend’, refused to lend him any support.

India, the supposed leader of democracy in South Asia, was the first to congratulate the new government and pledge its allegiance to its leader Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik.

Sri Lanka, despite Nasheed’s ill-judged support of President Mahinda Rajapaksa while the intenational community condemned him for alleged human rights abuses, followed suit.

It would come as no surprise for any observer of China’s recent foreign policy decisins that Beijing had no qualms over the legitimacy of the new government in declaring its willingness to carry on with business as usual.

Australia, home to many Maldivians and supposedly a close friend, found the Maldivian situation to be fodder for political jokes; the violence that its people endured in the aftermath of the coup nothing but material for double-entendres to be lobbed between parliamentarians on opposite sides.

And, of course, given the manner in which the United States has sought to spread democracy in the world in the last decade, it should come as no surprise that it finds no room to exercise its soft power in assisting Maldivians establish the truth about how their democracy was derailed last week.

The international community is making a huge mistake in ignoring the current crisis in the Maldives. The foremost reason being that the Maldives is incapable of conducting its own independent investigation into the events of the day as the international community is recommending. Like a small community in which twelve impartial people cannot be found for a jury in a trial where everybody has a stake in the verdict, there can be no tribunal of truth held in the Maldives where the majority is not biased one way or another.

The United States and others have rejected the deposed president and his supporters’ calls for new elections on the basis that there are no institutions capable of holding a fair and free one. What makes it, and the rest of the international community, then think that there can be an independent institution capable of conducting an impartial enquiry into the facts of 7 February? If any of the international teams that have been so active in the Maldives in the last week have done any homework at all, they know the biggest impediment to consolidation of democracy in the Maldives has been failure of the so-called independent institutions have been unable to free themselves from political influence.

It is not just the Maldivian people that the international community is betraying by leaving them to their own fate. It is also the ideals of democracy they have espoused so stridently, not to mention violently, for the last decade. By refusing to help the Maldivian people establish the truth of how its first democratically elected president was deposed, it is allowing the burial without ceremony of the role that anti-democratic forces – including radical Islamists – have played in bringing the fledgling Maldivian democracy to its knees.

It is also turning its back on a valuable opportunity to increase its own knowledge of how Islamists can radicalise not just a small Muslim community, but an entire population. Available evidence shows that without a clear pact made with Islamists, the coup could not have been successfully planned or executed. By refusing to help join Maldivians’ efforts to establish the truth of the events of 7 February and the conspiracies that led up to it, the international community is doing what it does best: ignore a threat until it escalates to the point where there is carnage on the streets and thousands of lives are lost.

The most significant characteristic of the days that have followed 7 February in the Maldives is the deafening silence of the Islamists. They helped incite hatred and anger towards Nasheed when he was the legitimate president; they were the loudest and the most vocal of his critics. In the week that has followed his ousting, they have been ominously silent. And, judging from how they have conducted their operations in the Maldives for the last decade, the silence is not due to pious reflection and quiet contemplation of God’s greatness. It is a silence of anticipation, the calm before the storm. The conspirators who financed the coup have done a deal with them, and they are waiting in silence because they are sure their grand chance is about to come. That is, the chance to impose Sharia rule in the country, the chance to crackdown on the women and turn them into inferior human beings and citizens, the chance to bring the Maldives back to the early days of ‘pure’ Islam and turn it into the newest region of the Islamic Caliphate that bin Laden envisioned.

Unfortunately, we live in a world of realist international politics where until a state’s own ‘national interest’ is threatened or one’s own self-interest is at risk, there is no ‘legitimate’ reason to act. As long as the anti-democratic activities in the Maldives pose no geostrategic threat to the ‘international community’, as long as foreign investment in the Maldives is safe, as long as tourists can keep sipping their cocktails under the palm trees, and as long as Maldivian blood does not spill on the pristine white beaches that the rich and famous lounge about on, paradise is not lost. Until then what prevails will be accepted as what passes as ‘democracy’ these days – government for the rich by the rich.

Azra Naseem holds a doctorate in International Relations.

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to editoria[email protected]

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Comment: Maldives goes from one crisis to another

Stone-walling and deflecting one issue with another have been tested methods of political strategy and administrative tactic in ‘matured’ democracies elsewhere. The young Maldivian democracy seems to have fast-tracked the processes and fine-tuned the methodology, and as a result these two aspects alone have remained three years after the nation heralded multi-party democracy and a directly-elected President in a hotly-contested campaign.

The latest in the series is the arrest of Chief Justice of the Criminal Court, Abdullah Mohammed, and the involvement of the Maldivian National Defence Force (MNDF) in executing the request of the police in this regard. Allegations have remained against the judge since the days of the predecessor Government of President Maumoon Gayoom, but his arrest, the involvement of the nation’s armed forces and the subsequent non-compliance of the orders of the civil court and the High Court in the matter, have all raised serious questions about the future of democracy in the country.

The last time, the Government of President Mohammed Nasheed employed the MNDF likewise was in mid-2010. At the time, the MNDF shut down the nation’s Supreme Court, under his orders, following a constitutional deadlock over the inability of the Executive and Oppositions-majority Parliament to pass required legislation on a variety of subjects, under the new Constitution, before the deadline had passed. Saner counsel (particularly low-profile Indian efforts) prevailed and the deadlock was resolved at the time.

Now, as then, ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) leaders, starting with President Nasheed, have called for ‘judicial reforms’. They have also reiterated the request from 2010, for the UN to help the nation introduce new canons of law and judicial practices. There is truth in the Government claims that most of the 170-odd judicial officers across the country were not qualified in law. As was known at the time of the 2010 crisis, only around 30 of all judicial officers in the country had a university degree in law.

As was again explained at the time, in a country where education stopped at A-Level (Cambridge, to be precise) for most, lawyers, and law and judicial officers with university degrees are hard to come by. Qualified lawyers in Maldives, as has been the wont in most other democracies and for historic reasons, either prefer private practice with a corporate clientele, or politics, or both. Yet, it is often argued, that the rest of the 170-plus were qualified in the Islamic Sharia. It is this that the present regime wanted to rewrite. Inherent to the effort is also the belief that most judges, having been appointed by the previous regime and without formal qualifications, tended to be loyal more to the erstwhile rulers than to the present Government and/or the Constitution.

Rallying cause for the Opposition

Independent of the merits involved in Judge Abdullah’s arrest, it has provided a rallying cause for the Opposition, after the hugely-successful December 23 protest to ‘protect Islam’. In between came the arrest of an Opposition leader, Dr Mohammed Jameel, Vice-President of the Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) of Dr Hassan Saeed, one-time Presidential Advisor to incumbent Nasheed and Attorney-General to predecessor Gayoom. The arrest of the otherwise controversial judge, against whom the first charges were laid by Hassan Saeed as Attorney-General as far back as 2005, has seen that the ‘December 23 movement’, launched by non-political NGOs, now consolidating itself into a political front.

With Judge Abdulla’s arrest, the divided opposition that had joined the ‘protect Islam’ rally under the care of religion-based NGOs, have taken over the leadership of the movement, if the latter still claims to be apolitical with a single-point agenda. This may also lend credence to the Government’s argument that the ‘protect Islam’ movement, based on the installation of individual monuments by SAARC member-countries after the Addu Summit in November, was more political and less religious in form and content. In popular perception, that may not be saying a lot, as one after the other, the issues that the Government seems wanting to offer the Opposition, has only helped the latter to sink their differences even more and consolidate their unity, which prior to December 23 protest was not seen as being possible, particularly during the run-up to the 2013 presidential polls.

The controversy surrounding the SAARC monuments, starting with that of ‘Islamic Pakistan’, being idolatrous in nature, may have robbed much of the credit that the Maldivian Government and President Nasheed richly deserved. MDP leaders are not tired of claiming that it was all part of a larger political conspiracy, aimed at upsetting President Nasheed’s growing popularity during the long run-up to the 2013 polls. Conversely, the divided Opposition of the time was arguing that the Government was deliberately flagging religious issues that went beyond the SAARC monuments, if only to ensure that President Nasheed got a party and challenger of his choice in the polls which they were convinced would go into the second, run-off round.

The issues included clearance for liquor sale in a newly-built star-hotel in the national capital of Male, proposals for allowing liquor sale in uninhabited parts of otherwise inhabited islands, both going against existing laws, and the demolition of an Islamic school, again in Male. Neither the pro-Islam NGOs, nor the opposition could have divined the ‘SAARC monuments’ controversy, but when it presented itself, they were not the ones to lag behind. Today, the December 23 rally is being projected as the largest gathering of the type in the country – with most partnering outfits in the erstwhile ‘pro-democratic’ movement of the earlier years having switched sides, since.

Role of the Vice-President

A new dimension has been added to the current crisis with the Opposition leaders and other partners in the December 23 movement calling on Vice-President Mohammed Waheed Hassan. Though it has been a practice for Maldivian political class to hold their public rallies and have their consultations post-dinner time and possibly going beyond 2 am, the urgency with which they called on the Vice-President at 1 am did not go unnoticed. The country’s first PhD-holder (from Stanford University), Waheed has resisted the MDP’s persuasive efforts to merge his GaumeeIththihad Party (GIP, or National Unity Party) with the major electoral partner, for him to be considered for the running-mate of President Nasheed again in 2013. Quiet in temperament, this former UN/UNICEF executive did not take kindly to the MDP later wooing away his senior Cabinet colleagues to its side.

At the end of the meeting with the Vice-President, the interim leader of Gayoom’s newly-floated Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), the controversial Ummer Naseer, told the local media that they had decided to “pledge support to the Vice-President.” Quoting Naseer, local media reports said, “Dr Waheed assured the party leaders that he would “take any legal responsibility he had to within the bounds of the law and was “ready to take over the duties specified in the Constitution.” In an even more significant observation, Naseer was quoted thus: “After these discussions we are now calling upon the nation’s security forces, on behalf of our ‘December 23 Alliance’ of all the Opposition parties in the country as well as the NGO coalition, to immediately pledge their allegiance to the Vice-President.”The stand of the ‘December 23 alliance’ was that President Mohamed Nasheed has “lost his legal status”, the media quoted Naseer as saying further.

The President’s camp did not seem overly or overtly perturbed by the development. President Nasheed’s Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair was quoted by the media that the Vice-President “has not said anything to cause a loss of confidence in him by the Government. “He was very careful in his statement, which was that he would undertake his duties as stipulated in the Constitution. Had the protesters gone to meet with (Fisheries Minister and MDP president) Dr Ibrahim Didi or (MDP parliamentary party leader) Reeko Moosa they would have said the same thing,” Zubair said.

The protesters claimed to represent 13 political parties and 21 NGOs, Zuhair said, “but all the rallies have seen the involvement of no more than 300-400 people. It is very disproportionate”. According to him, “The protests are slowing down and now they are trying to save face – pledging allegiance to the Vice-President is the same as pledging allegiance to the government. The VP is working in Cabinet today – there is no rift. This is a non-story,” Zubair maintained. The government was not concerned about Dr Waheed’s late night meeting with Opposition leaders, as letting the protesters into his house “was the polite thing to do,” Zuhair said. He also dismissed Opposition claims that there was anti-Government sentiment brewing in the security forces.

As in most democracies, the President – and by extension, the Vice-President, can be removed from office only through an impeachment motion in Parliament, with two-thirds of the members voting in favour. In a People’s Majlis with 77 members, the figure comes to 51. Neither the ruling party, nor the opposition (combine) has the number, and both have been falling back on the Independents to add up the numbers for obtaining a simple majority for their legislative initiatives, from time to time. Like the US pattern, the Maldivian scheme does not provide for fresh elections in case the presidency fell vacant mid-term. The Vice-President steps in, instead, to complete the unfinished term.

At the height of the ‘constitutional crisis’ triggered by the Government, entailing the en masse resignation of the entire Cabinet in mid-2010, Vice-President Waheed, would not comply with the MDP initiative, for him to quit, too. Owing to Vice-President Waheed’s considered stand, the Executive could not proceed with a politico-electoral showdown with the Opposition-majority Parliament, particularly over their criticism of the GMR contract for the modernisation of the Male International Airport, involving the Indian infrastructure major.

The Opposition, going by sections of the local media, has twisted President Nasheed’s alleged statement that he would not go in for fresh elections until he had ‘reformed’ the judiciary. The observation was contained in a leaked tape, which was broadcast by sections of the local media, and is purported to be contained in a conversation with the MNDF. The Opposition has interpreted this to argue that President Nasheed had no intention of holding elections, when due, by arguing that the promised judicial reforms were not yet over. It was also the reason for their mid-night meeting with Vice-President Waheed.

A surprising element in the current controversy is the unexpected criticism of the Government’s action by Dhiyana Sayeed, the Maldivian Secretary-General of SAARC since the Addu Summit in November. A nominee of the Nasheed leadership for the top job in the SAARC, which is as rotational as the SAARC Chair, the first woman Secretary-General of SAARC promptly put in her papers, as the SAARC Charter specifically prohibits the organisation from interfering in the internal affairs of member-countries. In between, she had also courted arrest for a brief while along with the ‘December 23 movement’ leaders, protesting Judge Abdullah’s arrest. Though not very well known nearer home or overseas, given in particular, her short stint at SAARC, the former Attorney-General has still stirred the net, nonetheless.

The writer is a Senior Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation.

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]

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MDP appeals for international assistance over “intolerable situation” of judiciary

The ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has appealed for assistance from the international community over the “increasingly blatant collusion between politicians loyal to the former autocratic President, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, and senior members of the judiciary – most of whom were appointed by Gayoom during his thirty years of power.”

In a statement by the MDP forwarded to diplomatic missions and United Nations offices by the Foreign Ministry concerning the events of October 20, the ruling party explained that a protest was launched against “an ongoing, highly-politicised Supreme Court case” contesting the eligibility of MP Mohamed Musthafa for the May 2009 parliamentary elections.

“The Supreme Court case is the latest installment of an ongoing attempt by Gayoom to secure a parliamentary seat for his son, Gassan Maumoon,” the statement alleged, noting that Gassan was defeated by the MDP MP for Thimarafushi constituency.

The High Court however ordered a re-vote after Gassan challenged the result, which was won again by Musthafa.

“Having lost two votes – both recognised as free and fair by the independent Elections Commission (EC) – the Gayoom family again turned to the courts for help,” the statement continues.

“Umar Naseer, a senior member of Gayoom’s political party [Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM)], lodged a case at the Supreme Court claiming that Musthafa had not been eligible to run for parliament because of an outstanding debt owed to the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) – a bank which became insolvent and had its loans and debts taken over by the Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA).”

Musthafa at Supreme Court

After the MMA clarified to Musthafa that he did not have an outstanding debt, the EC decided that he was eligible to stand for the Thimarafushi seat.

However, Umar Naseer told Minivan News in May 2010 that Musthafa “has to pay US$31,231.66 (Rf401,326.83)” to the MMA and that the Civil Court ruled on August 28, 1997 that the debt should be paid by MP Musthafa and his company Seafood International Private Limited.

“We raised the issue at the Elections Commission (EC) during the parliamentary elections and the former president of EC said that there was no debt which should be paid by Mustafa,” Umar said.”That’s why I took it to the Supreme Court.”

Before Musthafa was summoned to court last Thursday – which prompted the MDP national council to pass a resolution to launch a protest – the Supreme Court last conducted a hearing on the case on March 17 this year.

At last Thursday’s hearing, Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz said the apex court wished to “clarify a few points after reviewing the case.”

The Supreme Court Justices asked Musthafa a number of questions regarding the case, including if he had issued a personal guarantee for the loan.

Musthafa said he had not given any personal guarantee and insisted that the loan was issued to Seafood International Pvt Ltd.

“Politicised”

Following the MDP’s protest alleging that the judiciary and the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) were subject to political manipulation by the opposition and members of the former government, opposition parties accused the ruling party of attempting to exert undue influence over the judiciary by “intimidating judges,” warning of “dangerous” consequences for the nation.

The MDP statement meanwhile contended that Musthafa’s case “fits a pattern whereby cases filed against MDP supporters and those who sympathise with the MDP are fast-tracked while more serious cases against family and friends of Gayoom never reach court.”

On August 29, Independent MP Ismail Abdul Hameed was abruptly summoned to the Criminal Court and sentenced to one year and six months banishment about 30 minutes before a crucial vote on the government’s Goods and Services Tax (GST) legislation. The Kaashidhoo MP had been voting with the ruling party on the economic reform bills.

The statement also referred to the corruption trial of Deputy Speaker of Parliament Ahmed Nazim, charged with multiple counts of defrauding the former Atolls Ministry, which remains “indefinitely delayed.”

In the statement, MDP Chairman ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik accused senior judges of being “intent on defending the political and economic interests of their erstwhile friends and former paymasters from the regime of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.”

In May this year, the JSC, the watchdog body charged with overseeing the judiciary, abolished its Complaints Committee citing “efficiency”, with complaints against judges subsequently forwarded for review by the legal section and Chair Adam Mohamed Abdulla, a Supreme Court Justice.

Last year the JSC received 143 complaints concerning the conduct of judges. By its own statistics none were tabled in the commission, and only five were ever replied to. Chair of the former complaints commission, Aishath Velezinee, was meanwhile stabbed in the street in January this year.

The JSC also failed to table or even acknowledge receipt of a report on the judiciary produced by the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), which questioned whether the JSC’s possessed the technical ability and knowledge to investigate complaints and hold the judiciary accountable, as well as its independence.

Moosa went on to accuse the judiciary of “using the sanctity of judicial independence to protect the status quo and to remain unreformed. Nearly every judge appointed by Gayoom has retained his place on the bench – despite the fact that many of them have no legal qualifications whatsover.”

“We therefore look to our friends in the international community to help us address this difficult situation, and to support efforts to secure that which we all want – a strong, independent, professional judiciary, responsible to the needs of the society it serves,” the statement concludes.

Meanwhile in a statement released yesterday, the party revealed that its Councillor AbuBakr Fulhu “was unexpectedly called to the High Court for sentencing in a case originally brought in 2009 under Article 88(a) which contended that he had encouraged his brother to argue with a magistrate.

“The Criminal Court originally acquitted him, however, the local MP (an ally of Gayoom) has been pressing for a review by the High Court. Today, two years after the last hearing on the case, the High Court has suddenly summoned Aboo Bakr Fulhu for sentencing.”

The ruling party contended that the move was “clearly part of a concerted campaign, and we thus call on the international community to be vigilant. For example, senior members of Gayoom’s party, such as Umar Naseer, are informing the public about the outcome of cases against MDP supporters – before the verdicts have even been handed down, and are publicly predicting that many more MDP MPs will be brought before the courts and will be stripped of their seats”.

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